Being the best parent I can be in 2014

One dad’s small and (hopefully) achievable goal in his quest to parent better this year.

As we begin 2014, I wanted to think about tangible ways I could be a better parent in the new year. What small actions can I take to make myself happier and in turn make my family happier? I thought I’d share one with you.

But first, let me emphasize two parts of my goal.

First, being a “better parent.” We can all be better, but we can never be perfect. I strive to be the best parent I can be in each moment, recognizing that, sometimes, the best parent I can be is a cranky grump who yells at my daughters to just “put on underpants already.” What is a modest change I can make to be more attentive and less grumpy?

Second, my New Year’s Resolutions tend to be grand plans that I end up feeling bad about in February because I am still me. I prefer Merlin Mann’s guidance of Fresh Starts and Modest Changes, setting small, tangible, achievable goals that build good habits. Instead of a resolution of “eating healthier”, set a goal of bringing lunch to work once a week. But since habits are very hard to make stick, I’d need to go deeper than that and identify any gap that would cause me to revert to my old, comforting behavior. It would look a lot like this:

  1. Set a reminder to check the refrigerator every Friday for lunch supplies, and, if they are missing, add them to my grocery list.
  2. Go to the grocery store for lunch supplies.
  3. Set a reminder the night before to make a sandwich.
  4. Set a reminder for the next morning to take the sandwich out of the refrigerator and put it my bag.
  5. Set a reminder for when I get to work to take the sandwich out of my bag and put it in the office refrigerator.
  6. Set a reminder at lunchtime to remind me that I brought lunch that day.
  7. Set a reminder for when I get home to take the sandwich container out of my bag and put it in the sink to be washed.

That is just to remember to make a sandwich once a week. Children are harder than sandwiches–but also more important. So in 2014 I’m hoping to…

Put My Phone Away

When I’m at home, I’d like to be more present with my kids and spend less time fiddling on my phone. I don’t try to be on my phone all the time, but I find myself either going on my phone to do something useful (like jot down a reminder) and I get distracted by a shiny red dot. Or I have a moment of downtime, reach for my phone out of habit, and get absorbed in dopamine-rich microblogging.

A modest change I will make is to take my phone out of my pocket when I get home. This solves the problem of passively using my phone during downtime, but it creates more difficultly with the things my phone is actually useful for: getting things out of my brain and reminding me about them.

I use OmniFocus as my one inbox to rule them all.1 If I have any thought at all about a thing to do, it goes into my OmniFocus inbox to be processed later. Having all things out of my brain and into a trusted bucket allows my brain to stop worrying about whether it has thought about things. If I’ve ever thought about it, it’s in the bucket, so I stop worrying about it.

To have a place to capture these thoughts, I will keep a notebook and a pen in my pocket while I’m at home. If an idea comes into my head, I’ll write it down in the notebook. Now I know what you are thinking, “Sam, doesn’t this create a second inbox?” Yes, yes it does, but I think it’s worth it for the few hours each day I’m at home with the kids.2

If you hadn’t noticed, OmniFocus is an extension of my brain. All of the things my brain is horrible at (like remembering to do things) are set as reminders in OmniFocus. With my phone out of my pocket and possibly in a different room, I need a way for those reminders to remind me of things.

Thankfully, my frivolous and impulsive gadget spending came to the rescue. I have a Pebble watch that talks to my iPhone over bluetooth. Any notification that goes to my phone appears on the watch’s screen. All of those reminders, text messages, and phone calls are sent to my wrist. Even if I’m in a different room, I’ll still get a notification to clean the litter box at 8:35 PM.

This may seem like a small change to make to be a more present parent, but it is something achievable. I think I’ve thought through all the kinks and, if it works, I’ll have the confidence to try and build more good habits. If it doesn’t work, I’ll reflect on whether it’s something I still want to do and if so, where the habit has broken down.

Photo by: kelly.sikkema

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  1. And in the darkness bind them. 
  2. I have created a daily recurring task in OmniFocus to reconcile my notebook into OmniFocus. This will help until this new habit is engrained and trusted. 
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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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